By Charles Solomon | Animation Scoop February 6, 2014 at 1:45PM
The Lego Movie is a textbook example of a film that's "review proof." Whether critics like it or not - or whether it’s any good or not - it will make money because every little boy in the country will insist on being taken to it, probably multiple times. Boys could do worse - and often have in recent years. The Lego Movie is often clever and funny, although it could easily have been better.
Emmet (voice by Chris Pratt) works on a construction crew building skyscrapers in a Lego city, but he's so crashingly ordinary, neither his co-workers nor his neighbors really notice him. That all changes when he remains at the construction site after hours and (literally) stumbles onto Wildstyle (Elizabeth Banks), a girl covertly rummaging for a special relic. When Emmet fell, he got something stuck on his back. It’s the Piece of Resistance, the legendary object that the seer Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman) says can stop the super weapon Kragle from destroying the world - if it’s used by The Special, the character fated to save the world.
Not coincidentally, President Business (Will Ferrell) is scheming to use the Kragle to freeze the entire Lego universe into a lifeless stasis. He's dispatched hordes of agents, led by Bad Cop/Good Cop (Liam Neeson) to capture The Piece and destroy the cabal Wildstyle belongs to. Her attempts to keep Emmet and The Piece out of Business' hands lead to a long series of chases, fights and adventures. The rebels and the forces of repression eventually meet in a confrontation that goes on far, far too long.
The Lego Movie is often entertaining and surprisingly literary. The Master Builder Vitruvius is named for the Roman architect-author. In Cloud Cuckoo Land (the setting for Aristophanes' "The Birds"), Emmet meets a nicely incongruous assortment of supporting characters including Unikitty (Alison Brie), an ultra-cute anime spoof, obviously added to attract little girls; a none-too-bright version of Batman (Will Arnett); ex-Laker Shaquille O'Neal (as himself); and C-3PO (Anthony Daniels).
Most of the humor is delivered tongue in cheek, in the style of The Simpsons and Adventure Time. When Vitruvius calls for "Michelangelo," the audience sees the bearded Renaissance artist - then the Teen-Age Mutant Ninja Turtle.
In a welcome change, Emmet is the not another example of the unappreciated, think-outside-the-box nerd who's been at the center of so many recent animated features. Emmet never thinks outside the box: He IS the box, and his ordinariness runs deep. He follows instructions not just to the letter, but to the serif.
The animation is generally simple and staccato, as it has been in the Lego TV shows, but the settings are much more elaborate. The filmmakers provide huge, lavish sets and some pleasantly imaginative special effects. The entire world really looks like it’s made of Lego, including the oceans, clouds, smoke and stylized explosions.
Unfortunately, that visual imagination is often negated by the filmmaker's failure to realize that every story has an appropriate length. The movie is easily 15 minutes too long. The final, wearily repetitious battle-confrontation lasts just short of forever. It's a forgone conclusion that Emmet will go from nerd to savior of the Lego universe, just as it was a forgone conclusion that Luke would destroy the Death Star. But would Star Wars have been a hit if it had taken Luke a wearying 20-plus minutes to fly through the metal canyons to reach the thermal port? Sadly, The Lego Movie wears out it welcome needlessly. Stronger direction from Phil Lord and Christopher Miller could have yielded a more satisfying film - something the 13 credited executive producers might have noticed. (What do all those people actually do?)
Whether the little boys who make up target audience will care about the excessive length remains to be seen. They’ll insist on seeing The Lego Movie on its opening weekend—and on being bought more Lego toys after seeing it. Parents may find themselves squirming in their seats, checking their watches, and wishing there were some M & M's left in the bag.